How we perceive clouds, when we stop and stare, pause and look up depends on our intensity, or mood, our worldview.
For some the cloud they see might only be a combination of water billowed along by barometric pressure, for others there might be a recognition that that type of cloud heralds a storm, for others it may be a portent of a future event, for others it might initiate something deep inside. Whatever it does, clouds have a certain mystery about them, and hold a wisdom from which we can learn if we are open to that natural awareness like the Ancients were.
‘Never lose hope. The darkest clouds precede the loveliest rain!’ Avijeet Das
Last time [see here] we looked at low level and mid-level clouds, and now we consider those above that level.
At about 7000 feet to 23000 feet are altostratus clouds – mid-level layers of thin, featureless grey cloud. Usually thin enough to reveal the position of the sun, and sometimes the moon at night, and because these diffuse clouds may contain ice crystals you might also see a halo, a coloured ‘corona’ around the sun or moon in the clouds.
Laying on my back, aged six years (and so, some years ago), at home in Capel Curig, with friends and gazing at the sky, and spying a halo around the sun we would make a wish. I would like to say that the wishes were lofty and noble, but we were only young and on the few occasions we saw those halos we would wish for (more) sweets, a tree-house or new bicycles. Typical children. Happy days.
‘Ring around the Moon, Rain Real Soon’. Anon
With that kind of diffuse cloud in mind, it is worth mentioning the Brocken Spectre. Sometimes called Brocken bow or mountain spectre, this is the magnified (and apparently enormous) shadow of an observer cast upon clouds opposite of the Sun’s direction. The projection is often surrounded by the halo-like rings of coloured light.
The phenomenon can appear on any misty mountainside or cloud bank, but the frequent fogs and low-altitude accessibility of the Brocken, a peak in the Harz Mountains in Germany, have created a local legend from which the phenomenon draws its name. The Brocken spectre mentioned by Johann Silberschlag in 1780.
‘The colour has faded out of the sky. It is grey, becoming darker as the world turns herself round a little more. The clouds are long and black and ragged, like the wings of storm battered dragons.’ Keri Hulme
If you’re thinking of thick grey clouds that bring heavy rain, hail or snow, then look no further than nimbostratus clouds which reach altitudes of 2000 feet to 18000 feet. These are the clouds that you might see in the distance and actually see the rain failing as a thin, diaphanous ‘curtain’.
The word ‘Nimbo’ comes from the Latin word nimbus, which denotes precipitation. And, whilst on the origin of words – and you know how I love myth – nephos is Greek meaning “cloud”. In Greek legend Nephele was created from a cloud by Zeus, who shaped the cloud to look like Hera in order to trick Ixion, a mortal who desired her.
‘Clouds are just nature’s stepping stones to the heavens.’ Anthony T Hincks
Leaving the mid-level clouds behind we look at those high level clouds, the first of which are cirrus clouds. The clouds ‘reside’ at altitudes of between 17000 and 45000 feet. These clouds are usually detached from each other, and appear as patches or bands of cloud. These are fast-moving clouds, buffeted by high winds – think of aircraft turbulence; but because they can be so high, as anything far away, the ‘illusion’ is that they are slow moving. But, this isn’t the case.
If there are to be any clouds about on a summer’s day, then the lofty cirrocumulus clouds at 17000 feet to 45000 feet are the ones that will delight. These clouds are high and are really tiny ‘cloudlets’, regularly spaced, and maybe with a ‘rippled’ effect. Cirrocumulus clouds tend to reflect the red and yellow colours during a sunset and sunrise, and so they have often been referred to as “one of the most beautiful clouds”. This occurs because they reflect the unscattered rays of light from the early morning or evening sun.
‘Clouds are on top for a reason. They float so high because they refuse to carry any burden!’ Jasleen Kaur Gumber
Finally, in our brief look at clouds, the ‘high-flyers’ are cirrostratus clouds, ‘floating’ above 20000 feet. These can often be referred to as ‘the clouds that aren’t really there’, as they can cover hundreds of square miles, but can be so ‘thin’, so high and so subtle that they’re often overlooked by earth-bound observers.
Hopefully, this and the previous article has (re)kindled your love of the nature of clouds, and further your knowledge, wisdom and awareness (of them).
‘A parade of clouds
and little puffs behind them
they follow as their Mother’.
Julia Hartwig, Spojrzenie
Clouds, I would suggest are not just to be seen as objects to be scientifically analysed (though there is nothing wrong with that), but also to be understood as part of weather-lore, and something more – that they might trigger a deeper spirituality of awe in you, and yes, for some, to be seen as wonderful objects that give us some other-worldly wisdom, and/or entertain us for hours as we gaze at their majesty and changing shapes. Was that a whale? A television? An angel?
Next time you see a cloud (and it’s safe to do so), why not pause, and when you can, let me know what you ‘saw’, and if it had a deeper meaning to you. Perhaps it’s a ‘message’ from the Great Cloud-Giver? Happy cloud-spotting!